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TravelRant - The Southern Crescent 
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There are a thousand miles between New Orleans and Washington DC. So what’s the best way to cover that? By road? Not likely; it would take two days and would be excruciating; the constant pitstops for terrible food, toilets with rank hygiene and staving off the inevitable and dangerous fatigue that can and will affect driving ability.

By air? Intra-American air travel is no better; it still takes the best part of a day. You are required to be at a domestic terminal two hours before your scheduled flight, the catering is woeful; not even sandwiches are available for purchase, let alone for free, and the McDonnell Douglas S80 that flew us from Las Vegas to New Orleans was appeared to pre-date the Vietnam war and was just as loud. It was, in all fairness, less fun than brushing yourself down while wearing track pants and accidentally flicking yourself in the testicles so hard you collapse and convulse for twelve minutes. Believe me.

We did learn this the hard way; the USA is pretty fricken big – that is obvious when you look at a map. But only close examination shows that the West Coast is massive and full of features and life. And the South East, running all the way up the East Coast is also massive. But there’s a section right in the middle, down the bottom, that has almost nothing. And if you’ve landed on the West Coast and want to go East, that nothing is what you have to deal with.

This trip was no easy thing to plan. I did not wish to speak to a travel agent and walk out, trip organised. I wanted my own schedule, my own destinations, options and freedoms. The Internet is an amazing place, but the research was fairly meticulous and time consuming. And when we realised we had to get from Las Vegas to anywhere that could be determined as being “East”, air travel was the only way. And I hate air travel as much as I like air.

We’d chosen to stop into New Orleans for two reasons; one, an extremely well-travelled friend of ours advised it was her favourite place in the USA and her opinion on travel is like God’s opinion on religion and two, frankly, New Orleans could use the business. Air travel over that distance made sense, I suppose.

Believe me, I worked HARD to avoid the air travel; I was going to suggest we take the train, however that would have entailed a three-hour drive to the train line and then a 53-hour trek through the desert. I like trains, but when the scenery is red dirt and blue sky for 3000 miles, it seems like a waste. It would have taken us through El Paso, which I had found during my research, to be fascinating for being the LEAST culturally diverse city in America, with 80% of the city’s population being Latino, but again that was not enough to warrant going there. The plane had won.

Unfortunately for us, there did not appear to be a direct flight from Vegas to N’Awlins (sic), so via Dallas was our only sensible option. We were up at the crack of sparrows fart to catch the plane; dropped the rental Chevrolet Lumina LT off, the caught the courtesy bus to the terminal and checked in. Then caught another courtesy bus to the correct terminal, we then had troubles with a fat man who stared at us continually when we produced the wrong, paperwork, that he’d asked for. By the time we got to the gate several years later, they were calling our names and told us that we should have been there with two hours to spare. Thank you, annoying desk lady, for telling us that for the first time as we board the plane. We’ll know that for next time we’re in Dallas, y’all.

Obviously, with the kind of time we were keeping, there’d been no time for food. We figured we’d get something in the terminal, relax a bit, then board with an airy breeze of calmness, rather than trying to break the four-minute mile with several large bags. Sandwiches available on the flight? No, just soda and coffee (aka watery grey death).

With a thirty-five minute turnaround between landing in Dallas and flying to New Orleans, there was still no more time to get nourishment and again, still only soda and watery grey death on the second flight.

By the time we landed in New Orleans, we’d been at the airport one hour early, flown for almost three hours, had a thirty-five minute gap between flights that was taken up entirely by commuting from one gate to another, then another one-and-a-half-hour flight and it was now 2:30pm, except it wasn’t 2:30pm, it was 4:30pm due to the Louisiana time difference.

We were at our hotel, the Dauphine Orleans by 5:00pm and felt hungry enough to audition for a World Vision advertisement. The Dauphine Orleans is a quaint, boutique hotel with beautiful, old-world rooms, free wireless and a free drink offer at the May Bailey’s pub next door. Equally quaint, it appears not to have changed in a thousand years and, on tap, had the finest elixir New Orleans could offer, Abita brewery’s Turbodog. A dark, but lightly weighted ale, I had two of them, and was immediately paralytic.

Lisa, the sassy N’Awlins native barmaid, suggested a restaurant only a block away. The Oceana Grill introduced us to two of New Orleans’ most important contributions; Creole gumbo and jambalaya.

Creole gumbo, often served in restaurants as an appetizer (entrées in US-lingo are actually mains), is a thick seafood, vegetable and spice stew. I had gumbo three times during my time in New Orleans. It is the most awesome food you have ever eaten.

Except for jambalaya. This exquisite cuisine features seafood, vegetables and spices, plus a saugagey thing cut up amongst it. Both these dishes are slow-cooked for several hours and while they don’t sound like much, they were quite simply the best foods I had ever eaten. I had three servings of each over a three day period and was never sick of it, nor did I strike a bad one. But none of them tasted as good as the first servings after a 24 hour, airline-imposed fasting famine.

All-in-all, the air travel was hectic, stressful and an affront to what our pioneers envisaged when air travel was in its infancy. There was no catering, there was no service, but the end result was that we’d crossed many miles relatively quickly.

So upon leaving New Orleans for Washington DC, a thousand miles away, what would the best way to travel it? The car has already been mentioned and the plane is not an option for obvious reasons. But how about the mystery and majesty of rail?

Rail has been all but priced out of the Australian psyche. The Indian-Pacific from Adelaide to Sydney, first class sleeper, is about $2200 for two people. That is a journey of approximately 24 hours, which is near enough to $100 per hour. I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying that kind of hourly rate, I’d want slim black hooker from Philadelphia named Monique that swings both ways, rather than a rail journey.

However, New Orleans to Washington DC is about the same distance as Adelaide to Sydney and a similarly specced sleeper cabin with couch and double-bed costs about US$574, while the smaller 2-person sleeper we have chosen, with face-to-face seating and bunk beds, is US$394 including all meals for two people. Furthermore, this particular service runs daily, something Australia’s economy of scale just could not support.

Perhaps we are spoiled with our domestic airlines, sure Jetstar is rubbish and Tiger are lucky to show up at all, but Virgin have been doing good work since their launch and have the bubbliest and hottest air hostesses in the game, while Qantas continue to show the world how it should be done. It is entirely possible that if Australia’s internal airline services were to stoop to the level of the Americans and the Great Southern Railway crowd lowered their own standard and therefore price, coupled this with shorter trains with greater frequency, we might come close to the same service. But alas, it is currently entirely plausible that it is cheaper to fly to the States, ride their great railways and fly home than it is to go from Perth to Sydney and Adelaide to Perth, first class. One way.

Train travel has always held a great appeal for me. As a child, I moved to Perth with my sister and mother. At the time, it was cheaper and easier to ride the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth with the car in tow, packed full of belongings, including my Venus’ fly trap named Jaws, which I’m sad to say did not travel well.

A year later, after things did not work out, we returned home the same way. But I loved the journey; I had my own single cabin as my sister was younger and shared with Mum. I had books, magazines and the endless, changing scenery outside the window. I had the gentle thrum of the engines, the lulling sway of the carriages, a fold-away toilet next to my seat. I wanted for nothing, enjoyed every minute of it and was hooked. I have been chasing that particular dragon ever since.

There have been some satisfying hits along the way. Many years later, an eccentric (read: alcoholic) aunty decided to take us to Sydney for a holiday on the Indian Pacific and I got a fourth hit in my early 20’s when my girlfriend and I put the Gemini on the train and did the journey together. This is where my now-wife Sarah fell in love with train travel herself and where I learned that your first drive in inner-city Sydney is pretty hectic when you’ve only been off the train for five minutes and come from a town the size of Adelaide, where the seventeen cars we have are permanently gridlocked anyway.

This trip on the Southern Crescent from New Orleans to Washington DC is a double-bonus over the Indian-Pacific. Australia is wonderful; don’t get me wrong, but the terrain is familiar, no matter where you go. Sure, the Hay Plain will never be confused with the Blue Mountains, but even if you haven’t gone there, every local offering on television or in movies will have revealed the nature of the nature to you. No matter where you go in Australia, it looks like Australia. There are gum trees, rusting tin sheds and drop bears, regardless.

So to be here, in the heartland of America, is amazing as well as being markedly cheaper than staying at home. The terrain is the stuff every movie, book, television series and scribe has been telling us about since Mark Twain put down his cigar and picked up a pen.

As the train has been winding its way through the greenest, leafiest trees I have ever seen, thick with a mysterious, ivy-like groundcover that is both beautiful and copious, the surrounds have me speculating if we will round a bend to be confronted with the four boys from ‘Stand By Me’. It was filmed in Brownsville, Oregon, but it could have easily been here, along the Crescent line. Obviously, we won’t be running them over soon; the movie was set in 1959 and made in 1986 and one of them is dead, but it still seems entirely possible.

I’ve been on this train all day and have continually marveled at the images outside the window. The endless green has abated in some areas to reveal small towns dotted with inexplicable machinery, rusting resolutely by the tracks, decrepit infrastructure and boarded up shops, a level of urban decay we have not seen in Australia. Perhaps it is reflective of the USA’s tougher economic conditions, or perhaps a testament to the throw-away society they are famous for and embrace fervently. Either way, I find the buildings beautiful. 1930’s art-deco warehouses that were designed with flair and care that will never be seen again in our concrete tilt-up world, gas stations with exquisite but sun-damaged, hand-painted signage and tiny, weatherboard homes that have not seen a resident in decades, slowly being reclaimed by the land.

I like nature and beauty, but trees are green pretty much everywhere on this big globe. This ride has certainly had no lack of green, but look carefully amongst the foliage and there is unique evidence of a simpler time, when men were men, signs were painted and machines were metal.

There are Southern homestead-style mansions with requisite red barns among crumbling houses that appear uninhabited just a few doors down; except there is a gleaming pick up in the driveway. Skewed priorities, perhaps? And then there are the trailer parks. They are a microcosm, with perfectly manicured trailers on one plot and degenerate trailers the next, surely each housing at least one troubled teenaged girl that wants out of towns with evocative names like Picayune, Meridian and Tuscaloosa in states that I’ve only read about; Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North & South Carolina and Virginia.

Just now, I was talking to an incredibly homosexual man named Carl. He was from Boston and was traveling with his incredibly straight brother, Bud. Carl was in his 60’s, had an affinity for pastels and talked with his hands. And interestingly, as we trundle into Washington DC, he is pointing out the Capitol Building. That great dome, he says, puts shivers down his spine every time he sees it. He is visibly tearing up and is, unbelievably for an American, speechless. And this is a reflection of Americans and their love of America The Beautiful.

This is a guy who’s lifestyle, even now, could have him beaten to death in some parts, however he loves this country with all his heart and is willing to see past the flaws. He can see past the dingey alleyways of New York, the shootings of Los Angeles, the broken housing of Louisiana and the abused teenagers of Alabama for what it really is. Beautiful and amazing. And the Southern Crescent was an amazing way to see it.

Cheers,


Dave

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Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:55 am
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all u needed was a phone call from oz at 12:30am, and the trip was complete............... :lol:
well written dude!

btw... PM sent.

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Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:31 am
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LA, New Orleans, and DC? Those may very well be the top three on the murder rate in the US. I'm not sure if Detroit bumps one of them out. Ignoring tourism campaigns, that's a heck of a selection of places to visit.

You do realize that your chances of being murdered, in New Orleans, as a civilian (human bing standing in an upright position) are roughly one and one half times the chances of being killed as a coalition armed forces member in Iraq or Afghanistan?

I lived for several years in Louisiana and New Orleans is the definition of "a place I would like to visit but I wouldn't want to live there". I've been to LA and DC and both qualify as "I been there, I didn't leave anything behind, and I have no reason to go back".


Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:17 am
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seems that all places have the good and bad tho. just the way of the world, and after all, if we were all the same, that world would be a boring place to live! i guess it's just a case of finding the good without 'experiencing' the bad first.
it's OK tho JT, dave comes from adelaide, which is well known for exactly nothing happening there.... ever. :lol:
he's visited here (melbourne) before, and knows all about the "underbelly", as seen on TV, so he'll be fine.
thanks for ur concern tho!!

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Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:30 am
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Yeah, stats can be scarey, but there's a s load of people who DON'T get murdered! So you gotta be unlucky, wherever you are to get trouble. Statistically speaking, you are safe everywhere. Where is the highest risk of murder in Australia? For women at least, it's in the home. So if you want to be safe, DON'T STAY HOME!
Good on you Dave, It's an epic trip. Thanks for shareing it. I'm glad you found authentic Gumbo. We have grown the essential ingredient (Okra) & made it ourselves, and it was O.K., but I'd love a sample made by people who know what they're doing.
Oh, and Coffee, that's why Starbucks went broke in Aus. They made American Coffee. Mistake.
You're comments confirm the story.
Worst coffee in Aus? Easy. Pizza Hut. Worse than 'Caterer's blend'.
Good to read, Mate.
Cheers, Matt.

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Fri Sep 24, 2010 1:24 pm
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This is a good reminder not to brush oneself off wearing trackies if you have male parts. Thankyou

Is Gumbo anything like Clam Chowder ? Jim Carey refers to this as a password in one of his movies.

Train travel tends to show us the back door of the world. According to a collegue who has just come back from Europe you must try a modren trans continent "bullet" they have over there. His gps clocked it at over 300 kph without as much as a ripple in his wine glass. Astonishing. So much for taking in the scenery, as it all goes by in a bluurrr !!!

Man, as your epic slowly comes to an end, must be reluctant but also relieved, the feeling of school holidays coming to an end just like when we were 10.

Much enjoyed sharing the ride and the experience,

B.


Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:20 pm
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JT191 wrote:
LA, New Orleans, and DC? Those may very well be the top three on the murder rate in the US.".


Fortunately, in Pomona, LA we stayed in a quiet part of town and had our own car, so avoided walking anywhere, which is fine as everything in LA is too far away from the next place to walk anywhere. I spent several hours in the Petersen Museum. Perhaps I could have been shot there. Elvis Presley's DeTomaso Pantera was shot at some stage, by Elvis, mind you. But at least something in the museum had a gunshot wound. Thankfully not me.

Later, when we stayed in Laguna Beach, we also had a car, however it was an area for the rich, famous and beautiful (unsure how we got in) and was pretty safe. As we were in the 'art disctrict' the most dangerous thing there was a tattooist's needle.

In Vegas, which wasn't on your list, there were a thousand people everywhere all the time, mostly tourists and it's hard to travel packing heat, plus there were cops everywhere. Despite the lack of dry-zones and copious alcohol flowing, there was very little issue in the heartland of The Strip, which is where all the tourists congregate, myself included. Guns, knives or forks, it wasn't likely to happen where we were.

In New Orleans, we were in the French Quarter. The area was dirtier than Lindsay Lohan's drug test, but we were one street away from Bourbon Street, which was also relatively safe because of the amount of cops. It's another tourist haven and is therefore well patrolled. I did see a fist fight, however some cops rocked up on a golf cart within seconds and broke it up. I did see an African American man take a guy's watch, but it was part of his busking routine and he returned it. Plus he looked and sounded like Sammy Davis Jnr and you really did want to just eat him up.

...and finally in Washington DC, our hotel is on Capitol Hill. It's within walking distance of everywhere and I don't know if you've been to DC lately, but this entire area is filled with little booths with cops in them, plus cops whose job it is to sit in their cars all day with the AC on. Most government buildings had cops stationed outside of them and the Capitol building itself the cops had machine guns. Given I'm not a terrorist, I've never felt safer in my life from the perils of a random shootout or stabbing.

So essentially, danger doesn't often find you, you find it. If I go down a darkened alley with five cagey youths in it, regardless of race, creed or colour, I will expect trouble, but I probably won't go down there in the first place. If I'm walking through the National Mall in Washington DC, then the only way I'm going to be shot is if I start the trouble and I'm shot by the FBI.

Back at home, nothing happens in South Australia, however it is famous for wine, cheeses and being the serial killer capital of Australia, so... well... don't go there, Bill as you'll just get murdered, parts of you will be feasted on, then your body put in a barrel full of acid and stored in a disused bank. It's happened before, no reason it won't happen again.

Having said that, I believe guns played very little part in the Bodies In a Barrel case, our most famous serial killling where twelve people died. Instead the victims were bashed with shovels, garrotted with rope and electrocuted on the genitals. I think I'd prefer to be shot, but it proves that people will kill people with whatever they've got.

Interestingly, the University of Pennsylvania did a study of 677 gun deaths over a 2.5 year period up to 2009 and found that people carrying guns were 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed by gunfire that someone who isn't packing heat.

So, statistically, I've probably been safer than you, even though you're packing heat.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have a gun, but me not having one means that is one less gun I'll be shot by. Next stop is New York. Perhaps I can be shot there and complete my authentic American experience.

Cheers,

Dave

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Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:40 pm
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dave wrote:
JT191 wrote:
LA, New Orleans, and DC? Those may very well be the top three on the murder rate in the US.".


Fortunately, in Pomona, LA we stayed in a quiet part of town and had our own car, so avoided walking anywhere,

In New Orleans, we were in the French Quarter.

...and finally in Washington DC, our hotel is on Capitol Hill.

Interestingly, the University of Pennsylvania did a study of 677 gun deaths over a 2.5 year period up to 2009 and found that people carrying guns were 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed by gunfire that someone who isn't packing heat.


The thing about LA is that while driving from safe place to safe place, you have to go through all those unsafe places. Is it Sepulveda Blvd. that goes through Inglewood (OJ's neighborhood" and Beverly Hills, but everywhere between looks like a freshly bombed Sarajevo.
This gives the location, name, and age for LA homicides in an interactive map format:
http://projects.latimes.com/homicide/map/
Seven homicides in Pomona so far this year.

And in New Orleans, the change from tourist area to dangerous area is like flipping a light switch. North west of the French Quarter is Louis Armstrong Park. I walked a circle with a few other non-native friends, was asked by the native friend where we had been, explained we walked up the block to the park and back, and the response was "Stay the heck out of there, they shoot a couple people each night in that park".

DC is pretty famous because the White House is within walking distance of the most frequent drive-by shooting areas, and DC has an outright ban on firearms.
This is a map of Homicides in DC for the last six months:
http://www.crimereports.com/map/index/? ... zoomlevel=

The University of Pennsylvania statistics are pretty widely discredited. But ignoring the many studies proving that one wrong, at best it would only show a spurious correlation. That being that a majority of people whose life has been threatened or who know they may be put into a situation that they will have to defend themselves, buy a firearm. If they are unable to fend off the person who previously threatened to kill them, or the car jacker in the bad neighborhood that they knew they knew they were going into, then they become a statistic, and the statistic has only counted the fact that the victim knew they were at risk, took steps to reduce that risk, and in the end was unable to prevent their own murder despite the effort.
I think there are some pretty good statistics showing that Police are most likely to die by suicide with their own service weapon, but no outcries to either disarm the police, or require they be under constant psychiatric supervision...

Back to tourism, I think both Florida and Pennsylvania issue concealed carry permits to non-residents. That might make a very 007-license-to-kill souvenir back in OZ.


Sat Sep 25, 2010 5:51 am
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See, I don't know too much about stastics, but I know that the same numbers can frighten, or reassure. You started me thinking, JT, what ARE my chances of getting murdered if I ever go to the states? :? So I tried to rough it out.
I think there are about 300 million people over there. If they each average encountering 100 others each day, that's 30 billion encounters /day. This times 365 days = 10,950 billion encounters /year. The only stat I could find for yearly murders was 14,000 in 2008. So 14,000 of these encounters resulted in one killing the other.
So, divide the 14,000 by 365 days to get 38 murders/day. Then take the 30 billion encounters & divide by 38 = 789,473,684. 1 in 790 odd million at any given meeting. :|
That's less chance than winning the lotto, then winning it again the next week! Thats even less chance than winning the Powerball!!
See, I don't buy lotto tickets, or guns.
Mate, I reckon see if you can get 10 bucks for your gun & buy a tin of polish for your Bellett :!: :D
Above all, DON'T WORRY! Worry makes stress and you could get a heart attack! :(
All good fun. Cheers & tranquil thoughts,
Matt.

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Sat Sep 25, 2010 1:15 pm
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Good work to all; I really just worked in the University of Pennsylvania's stats because JT loves stats to support arguments. However, it turns out that the University of Pennsylvania's stats are some sort of mythology and should not be trusted.

As I understand, four out of five stats are skewed to benefit those using them anyway and that's not counting the 20% that are made up.

So far, I haven't been shot by any non-whites, whites, strung-out grandmothers, gang bangers, nerf herders or inbred hicks, so if I am you guys will be the first to know, THEN I'll call 911.

Cheers,

Dave

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Sat Sep 25, 2010 5:34 pm
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